The Lessons of War

by | Sep 24, 2001 | POLITICS

Now that we have officially more or less committed ourselves to war, many will now object that this mission poses too many strategic pitfalls — that the Middle East is a vast quagmire, that the enemy is too elusive, that this will be “another Vietnam.” As always, many raise these objections, not as problems to […]

Now that we have officially more or less committed ourselves to war, many will now object that this mission poses too many strategic pitfalls — that the Middle East is a vast quagmire, that the enemy is too elusive, that this will be “another Vietnam.” As always, many raise these objections, not as problems to be solved, but as rationalizations for appeasement and surrender. But they are right that we need to learn the lessons of past wars if we are to achieve victory in this one.

The first lesson we need to learn is from World War II. In Europe, we pledged ourselves to a “great crusade” against a brutal totalitarian dictatorship, Nazi Germany — but we began by allying ourselves with another brutal totalitarian dictatorship, Soviet Russia. The motive was all too familiar. The American left was sympathetic to the Soviet regime and its socialist ideology, while amoral pragmatists were willing to accept any ally.

The result is all too well known. A few years later, we found ourselves in a life-or-death struggle with the dictatorship that we had so kindly preserved.

Today, we are considering, as partners in our “great cause” against terrorism, two terrorist nations: Syria and Iran. The motive? The American left is sympathetic to any enemy of the U.S., while Colin Powell is spinelessly flexible in his search for allies. We can expect the same result as before: we will preserve Iran, Syria and the Palestinian Authority, so that they can be responsible for the next terrorist attacks on the U.S.

We must learn this lesson now, before it is too late.

Opponents of the new war look to a different example. They claim that we are risking a repeat of Vietnam, a conflict in which America got “bogged down” fighting a “guerrilla war” in hostile terrain. They take for granted that the inevitable conditions of the war — the terrain and the “guerrilla” enemy — were the cause of our failure. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

We got bogged down in Vietnam, not because our military failed, but because our politicians did not let them fight. We asked our troops to fight a war against guerrillas in South Vietnam — guerrillas trained, supplied and supported by North Vietnam, which we declared off-limits. Had we allowed our soldiers to take Hanoi, the war might have lasted six months. But, our leaders fretted, such a move would have been too aggressive and would have risked an escalation to war with China. Instead of confronting that reality, we sacrificed 58,000 American soldiers to a futile strategy.

In today’s war, we have to fight, not just Afghanistan, but the whole range of terrorist nations, and we dare not settle for a phony war of sanctions and diplomatic pressure. We have to use the whole panoply of American military might. But, our State Department frets, this would be too aggressive and would risk too great an “escalation.” Once again, we are about to tie the hands of our military, asking them to stop all terrorism without allowing them to attack all terrorists. If we do so, we are setting them up for failure.

We must learn this lesson now, before it is too late.

But the most urgent strategic lesson is the lesson of the Gulf War. Ten years ago, we drove Iraq’s armies out of Kuwait and forced them to surrender. Then we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, leaving Saddam Hussein and his regime in power and settling for periodic weapons inspections. After a few years, when the troops had gone home and our leaders’ attention wandered, Hussein kicked out the inspectors. Now we have no idea what weapons he might have, or what role he might have played in the Sept. 11 attacks. By keeping Hussein and his regime in power, we guaranteed a new war 10 years later.

Are we making the same mistake now? President Bush has presented the Taliban — and, by implication, other terrorist governments — with a list of demands, which include kicking out terrorists and destroying their training camps. The great danger is that they might comply with those demands — allowing them to stay in power, waiting until our attention wanders again. In a desire to avoid a wider war now, we would be keeping our would-be murderers in power.

We must not present these governments with demands. We must present them with destruction. If we don’t, this is another lesson that will be learned only after our soldiers have died in vain.

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to TIADaily.com and enter your email address.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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